It is no secret that law firms have struggled with achieving and maintaining a diverse workforce. And, while law firms have made leaps and bounds in recruiting diverse candidates, the unfortunate fact remains that women lawyers and lawyers of color have the highest rates of attrition in the profession. In fact, a recent study revealed that the number of minority women lawyers who leave their law firms has steadily risen in the last decade. Minority women made up one-third of all associates who left their law firms in 2017. These statistics are startling and indicate that there is still work to be done within the profession. But what can we, as members of Lawyers Club of San Diego, do to help facilitate this important work?
As a minority woman lawyer, I have experienced the challenges of trying to find a firm where I felt I could grow as an attorney and advance toward partnership. Although I am a new lawyer, my post-law school job search made it clear to me that doing so would be no easy feat. After what seemed like a thousand law firm interviews, I was fortunate to find my current firm, where the culture and people finally felt right. Every firm is unique, but here are three ways most firms can curb the high rates of minority lawyer attrition and promote diversity and inclusion.
1. Have a Formal Mentorship Program: Many minority lawyers, including myself, are the first person in their family to enter into the practice of law. Having a mentor as an ally in a law firm is a critical resource that should not be underestimated. A mentor should act as a sounding board for the diverse associate, show them the ropes and help them get acquainted to the firm. The mentor should also act as both a source of work and a source of constructive criticism for the associate. Having a mentor greatly increases the chances that a diverse lawyer will feel like their law firm will provide long-term support for their career.
2. Promote Diverse Lawyers: Studies have shown that the presence of diverse attorneys in leadership roles has a positive impact on both innovation and diversity. Diverse lawyers should be present on key firm decision-making committees such as the partner selection, compensation and executive committees. This makes business sense because clients are increasingly demanding diverse representation. Moreover, diverse attorneys are more likely to stay at a firm where attorneys who “look like them” have a chance at advancement and leadership within the firm.
3. Give Diverse Lawyers Opportunities / Check Implicit Bias: Whether we like it or not, everyone carries implicit biases. Unfortunately, sometimes these biases can lead to diverse attorneys receiving less opportunities than their white counterparts. Firms seeking to retain diverse talent should be mindful of the quality of the work being assigned to their diverse associates. Diverse associates should be given work that is as equally challenging as their white counterparts including opportunities to interact with clients, interact with opposing counsel, appear in court, and provide advice and counsel. While providing less-challenging work to diverse associates may merely be an “implicit bias” of law firm leadership, these attorneys recognize when they are not being valued and we will undoubtedly leave a firm if their career growth is being stifled.
As members of Lawyers Club of San Diego, I encourage you to incorporate these three suggestions into your firm’s or organization’s diversity and inclusion/retention strategies. Advancing diversity in the legal profession is an important issue which affects all of us, and one which we all can play a role in championing.
Join us on February 13, 2020 at Procopio from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Women of Color reception where Lawyers Club will honor and celebrate women of color in the legal community with keynote speaker the Honorable Vallera Johnson
Kevonna Ahmad is a Labor and Employment Associate at Fisher & Phillips LLP and wrote this for Lawyers Club of San Diego’s Diverse Women’s Committee.